The Burntface Movement: Futuristic African Rap Music
by Ellias aka 'The Profit'
Burntface is a movement…
is a movement that speaks to those previously unspoken to. Burntface
is not a voice in the darkness; it is what happens when the darkness
itself starts to speak. Imagine a Pan-African movement that is
more about movement than it is about Africa. It is a Black Power
struggle that starts with being human and finds its power in an
understated wink to the millions who overstand that people have
far more similarities than they do differences. We are an organization
that does not seek converts, but only works to preach to a choir
that may be afraid to sing because they think no one is listening!
can be a part of Burntface. Our active membership consists of
approximately two dozen musicians, singers, rappers, web designers,
filmmakers, activists, school teachers, painters, and photographers,
yet our passive sympathizers are estimated in the thousands worldwide.
Burntface was originally known to many as an "Abesha" rap group
from Atlanta, especially for its original underground classic
'U Abesha?', it can now be better described as a collective. Rap
music is just one of many things we do. I like to think of it
as a "fight club for pacifists" comprised of members who choose
to use art as a tool for social awareness.
began as an independent experiment in niche marketing while I
was pursuing a degree in Marketing from Morehouse College in Atlanta.
In its initial form, it was an optimistic attempt to create an
Abesha-centered hip-hop album - an otherwise untapped and lucrative
with the realization that there are enough of us (Abeshas) who
listen to hip-hop and who identify with Black American culture,
an album entitled 'Atlanta' was compiled featuring music with
English and Ethiopian lyrics. Since its inception, however, Burntface
has grown extensively to encompass not only the Abesha community
but all members of the African Diaspora as well.
has produced and distributed two albums and is currently finishing
a third. With each consecutive album, Burntface has become less
defined yet increasingly influential. The first album found us
making the statement "We're Abesha rappers," and by the second
album we had evolved to: "We're rappers who are Abesha." The third
time around we decided to let y'all figure it out. Initially,
we were merely making hip-hop music with Amharic lyrics; now we're
making hip-hop in Ethiopian time signature, if you will, and in
an Ethiopian format. This is a whole new territory. Burntface
today embraces diverse styles, yet they all point towards the
same theme - the unity and socio-economic development of Africa
and African communities in the Diaspora.
is a community…
music is designed to bring together Abeshas and African-Americans
who identify with Africa's significance to the greater Black community.
Burntface participants collaborate on art and music projects irrespective
of their physical location. We recently did a song with a San
Diego-based rap group aERmed Mindz. They Fed-Exed the beat to
me in Atlanta, I laid my verse on a CD and sent it back the next
day. Abby, an Ethiopian singer from Houston, laid her verse over
the Internet and then they Fed-Exed the mixed and mastered version
back to me in time to make it on the album. Although the original
Burntface crew consisted of three musicians, today, 'Burntface
Communities' across America are actively contributing to the music
project. Shout outs to the Burntface crew in Los Angeles, Seattle,
Houston, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Tanzania, and Addis,
who helped to make our latest project a success. Our distribution
is handled by what most people would call "fans", but they are
really extended family.
has fueled its contagious acceptance?
misconception is that all this so-called "gangsta" rap talks to
the black community, when in reality it is promoted and designed
to fuel the fantasies of suburban white America. Burntface has
found its success in being unapologetically black-we appeal and
directly market to real black people, not two-dimensional stereotypes.
We appeal to old school hip-hop fans that are nostalgic for the
days when being African was cool. Most mainstream hip-hop today
consists of hyper violent cartoon characters like (fill in the
blank). The media is flooded with so-called "gangsta" rap. We
provide an alternative I like to call "Joe Blow Rap". We talk
to the regular guy or gal who deals with real life situations,
i.e. love, anger, racism, friendship, pain, frustrations, and
having fun. Like the vast majority of people, we want a better
world. We don't tell anyone how to live their life because most
of us are still trying to get our s__t together. We just provide
an alternative perspective that young people feel they can connect
to. We are positive without being pretentious.
is revolutionary marketing.
is designed to circumvent current advertising rules made by the
music industry. A strategic partnership with abesha.com initially
helped to spread the news about the first Burntface album released
at the San Jose Soccer Tournament in 2000. Within months of Burntface's
album release, word had spread throughout the African Diaspora.
Wherever there were Ethiopians, someone knew of Burntface. When
we started getting E-mails from Switzerland, Germany, and Hong
Kong (yes, there are Ethiopians in Hong Kong…surprised me, too),
I knew we were on to something. One day a fan of the group went
to Ethiopia with a copy of the album and the CD managed to make
its way onto a radio station in Addis Ababa. The rest is history.
Today Burntface uses original artwork as a method of promotion
and advertisement. The Burntface "logo" is the continent of Africa
pointing in the opposite direction of what most people in the
West are used to. In college I learned that our "common" understanding
of the Earth places Europe on top, but the ancient Egyptians called
the source of the Nile (Ethiopia) the Upper Nile. This got me
to thinking about why we accept that a sphere (the Earth) floating
in infinite space has a top and a bottom even though elementary
geometry tells us otherwise. The Nu Africa is a passive-aggressive
subversion to institutionalized Europeanism that stifles the growth
of African people. (Turn a map "upside down" and Europe seems
Burntface aims to make Africa accessible to people who see it
as an abstract concept or those who just miss the "hagar bet".
We believe that Africans throughout the world are in the same
boat economically. Our economic future as African people depends
on us promoting and doing business with each other, not only because
it is socially responsible but also because it is lucrative. They
don't call me The Profit for nothing.
is Futuristic African Rap Music (F.A.R.M) featuring vocals by:
Surafel, Jae Ellis, B-Price, STAHHR the Femcee, Hilena, Walta,
aERmed Mindz, Abby, Hershy, Sever, The Profit, Tony Cavasin on
Guitar, and Jorga Mesfin on Sax, flute and kalimba.
African Rap Music is the name of Burntface's latest effort. This
album aims to spread awareness regarding our role in alleviating
famine, curbing the effects of HIV/AIDS, and promoting sustainable
living initiatives in African nations. This album is dedicated
to Surafel Assaminew, one of the original members of Burntface
who fell victim to police brutality on September 16th, 2003.
was one of those people who really believed in Africa. He, more
than any other person I know, believed that one day Africa would
have peace. He was a person that not only thought about making
the world a better place, but honestly believed he was going to
contribute to this change. He had a strong belief in his ability
to influence the next generation of Africans (on both sides of
the Atlantic) to have pride in their history and to have compassion
for humanity. Surafel had hope for the future.
is a one-stop portal for all things related to the Black experience.
It was created as a place for Africa-oriented people to network
and learn from each other. It is a place to experience artwork,
both musical and visual, created by Burntface. Anyone is welcome
to join the Burntface Community. The only requirement is that
you not take yourself too seriously, love life, and genuinely
believe you can make a change.
(a.k.a. The Profit) resides in Los Angeles, California.
get involved and support a grassroot program in Ethiopia visit
tesfainla.org and to learn more about the online Abesha diaspora
views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily
reflect those of Tadias Magazine).